Jubilee Brewfest

By on 23 May, 2011 in Bars, City Living, Food, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

It may be hard to believe for newer Montgomery transplants, but Jubilee CityFest used to be extremely cool. It used to draw great, nationally-recognized touring acts who played at stages set up around downtown – similar to Birmingham’s City Stages before its recent ignominious and embarrassing downfall. Check out this surprising list of previous years’ performers from Jubilee festivals of years past. No matter what genres of music you enjoy, there is probably someone on that last that surprises you. And these people used to play in Montgomery every summer.

These days our Jubilee has been greatly (and perhaps wisely) scaled back to include only a handful of activities: music and fireworks on Friday night, a run and BrewFest on Saturday. Of these events, due to a crowded calendar, we only made it to BrewFest. And then only with some trepidation. Granted, we’d had a good time at the Riverwalk Wine Festival, but still – $30 plus taxes to hang out and drink beer in tiny cups? We were skeptical.

What we found was pleasantly surprising, and a testament to the tremendous potential of Jubilee. After dropping $66, we were given wristbands and a small plastic cup. We wished for actual glass, like the Wine Festival glasses, but maybe next year.  We walked in and were able to get beer right away. This was kind of shocking – we were worried that the lines would be so long that we wouldn’t get to try many beers, but we were able to drink our fill and just go right up to tables staffed by eager volunteers.We got there at 8 for an event that was only due to last from 7 until 10, so maybe there was a bit more of a logjam before we arrived. But when we got there, it was easy to get pretty much any beer you wanted.

The train shed is a very cool place to have an event (though it was a bit weird to be sitting and sipping while countless tanker cars of hydrochloric acid and other super-toxic chemicals loudly wheeled by just a few feet away). The crowd was big but well-managed, with plenty of bathroom facilities (often a problem at events like the Magic City Brewfest).

There were a number of vendors selling food – everything from an outrageously priced, tiny cup of $4 hummus from Ham and High to freshly shucked oysters at the Wintzell’s stand (6 for $5, not terribly outrageous considering the market price for a dozen in a restaurant).

The tables where the beer was dispensed had strange buckets on them, saying that you had to pay at least one penny each time you came up for a sample of beer. At first, we were mortified since none of the promotional literature mentioned this (moronic) nominal payment requirement and nobody at the gate told us that we’d want to have a roll of pennies handy. Fortunately, we quickly discovered that the dispensers of the beer were not enforcing what they said was an antiquated requirement of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. This regulatory ABC is not to be confused with the Allstate Beverage Company, who was a co-sponsor of the event.

An entire post could be devoted to the ABC Board, which until recently was headed by infamous former Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar. The requirement that BrewFest patrons would be required to drop a nominal penny in a bucket each time they got a sample of beer (after paying $33 at the door) is unsurprising, given that primitive views about alcohol control (and oligarchic economic cartel-like behavior) are the reasons why groups like Free the Hops exist and are continually fighting for the rights of Alabama alcohol consumers to have access to various varieties of libations.

Speaking of Free the Hops, we were very surprised to see that they weren’t mentioned at all anywhere at the event. We wrote to them and they said they’d be interested in helping out with Jubilee BrewFest (they sponsor the Rocket City and Magic City beer festivals, so they know what’s up), but that they’d never been contacted about Montgomery’s own offering. Memo to city: Next time, it might be a good idea to involve the state’s premiere high-end beer organization present at our festival.

Another minor drawback of the BrewFest was that the beer-dispensing tables were not staffed by employees of the various breweries. Rather, they were just Jubilee festival volunteers who were instructed to pour the requested beers into the sample cups. While this made for a relatively speedy turnaround (transactions were not hampered by folks wanting detailed descriptions of the hops profile of each beer), it also would have been nice to have been able to ask a knowledgeable person about the manufacturing processes that created each beer. Many people actually want to know how the various kinds of beer are made in order to form a more educated opinion about what they like or don’t. And it wouldn’t hurt to be able to talk to someone who understands how and where those brands are distributed … in order to make subsequent purchases more likely.

Still, we appreciated the volunteers who made the BrewFest function. The event went off without a hitch, boasted a diverse crowd, and left everyone happy and full of beer. On the way out of the gate, Creek Casino employees tried to give everyone a casino-branded mug – they were a major sponsor of the event. We managed to escape with only one mug. As we wandered off into downtown, we thought about how it was nice to spend an evening drinking beer with friends and not going home smelling like smoke. We’d definitely go back to the BrewFest, but at a slightly lower cost – at $33 apiece, not including food, it’s a bit expensive. Next year they should shoot for $20 per person.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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